What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Other curious Tracts worthy of high Rank in every Gentleman’s Literary Repository.”
Robert Bell, one of the most influential booksellers and publishers in eighteenth-century America, had a memorably flamboyant style. He often packed his newspaper advertisements and book catalogs with florid prose to attract the attention of prospective customers. Such was the case in an advertisement that ran in several newspapers in May 1773, commencing in the Pennsylvania Chronicle and the Pennsylvania Packet at the beginning of the month and appearing in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal by the end of the month.
Bell often opened his advertisements with an extravagant salutation. In this instance, he addressed “THE SONS OF SCIENCE IN AMERICA,” advising them that they played an important role in the publication of “a decent American Edition of the splendid Judge BLACKSTONE’S COMMENTARIES on the LAWS of ENGLAND, in four Volumes.” For nearly two years, Bell had been promoting the project throughout the colonies, including in an advertisement in the Providence Gazette that addressed the “Gentlemen of Rhode-Island, and all those who are animated by the Wish of seeing NATIVE FABRICATIONS flourish in AMERICA.” The bookseller now reported that under the “auspicious Influence” of his supporters, those “SONS OF SCIENCE” and gentlemen who supported an American publishing industry, the fourth and final volume of Blackstone’s Commentaries went to press and “is now ready to be delivered to the Subscribers.” Those who placed advance orders could expect to receive their books soon.
The “humble Providore to the Sentimentalists, and Hand Servant to the Friends of Literature” took the opportunity to promote another book that he marketed as “a fifth Volume to range uniformly with said Commentaries.” That “New Edition” included “much esteemed Letters of the very respectable dissenting Divine Dr. FURNEAUX to Judge BLACKSTONE, with PRIESTLEY’S Remarks on the Commentaries, and some other curious Tracts worthy of high Rank in every Gentleman’s Literary Repository.” Yet Bell did not confine sales of that book solely to gentlemen who purchased all four volumes of Blackstone’s Commentaries and had extensive libraries. He presented a single volume with so many entries as an “Accommodation [for] the un-opulent, among whom are many firm Friends to the Exploration and Investigation of every Truth, in which Humanity or Christianity are inserted, who ardently wish to see the Foundation of civil and religious Liberty fully displayed, asserted and established, above and beyond the Reach of all Human Tyranny.” A prospective buyer’s ideals, not his status, justified acquiring so many essays “in one Volume.” Bell encouraged readers to think of themselves as part of community devoted to the highest ideals, a community that extended from New England to South Carolina.